22/07/2021 – Sustainability / Retail / Supermarkets / IoT / Technology / IMS Evolve / Jason Murphy
Shifting shelves for sustainable success
Covid-related adaptation, combined with the dawn of advanced IoT solutions, could prove key to the retail industry’s sustainable transformation. Jason Murphy of tech firm IMS Evolve describes how.
Retailers must move quickly with their sustainability improvements to meet government targets. And due to Covid-19 the barriers to sustainably transforming stores have actually never been lower. In this Q&A session, Jason Murphy tells Food & Beverage Networker about how the agility and adaptability shown by retailers throughout the pandemic can also be applied when dealing with issues surrounding sustainability in stores and across the supply chain.
Having worked with Tesco for over a decade to help develop and implement digital solutions, Jason is today Managing Director of IoT Retail at IMS Evolve, whose technology is currently enabling sustainability in some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets.
Specialising in energy saving software specifically for refrigeration and HVAC appliances in the food retail sector, IMS Evolve hit the headlines last year by developing a technology that turned supermarket fridges into a giant national battery – in a collaboration with Tesco and the University of Lincoln. Since then, IMS Evolve has continued to introduce energy-efficient IoT technologies in retail environments, and recently the company announced it will be providing the IoT component for the world’s first digital sandwich, which aims to dynamically monitor every ingredient in their pre- packages sandwiches across the whole food supply chain in order to combat waste and issues of food provenance.
What challenges do you identify for retailers in terms of the pressure they face to improve sustainability?
Jason Murphy (JM): “It’s a fact that retailers simply have to adapt their stores, processes and operations in order to prioritise sustainability. The government’s guidelines on recycling, plastic, waste, sustainability in production, efficiency across the supply chain and ‘sell by’ dates restrictions means that retailers face significant and fast-growing pressure to implement successful sustainability strategies.
“The key to improving sustainability right across the food retail industry lies within digitalisation and the use of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. Over recent years, these technologies have become more prevalent in the sector, which is a testament to their ability to transform business operations and drive multifaceted efficiencies. Traditionally however, in what is an extremely tight-margined industry, a common barrier to adoption has been the prohibitively high upfront costs associated with the ‘rip and replace’ requirement of old infrastructure and machines in order to successfully digitalise a store environment. Now though, with the development of advanced IoT solutions, this barrier has been broken down. By leveraging agnostic capabilities of new technologies, equipment of any type, age or manufacturer can be integrated at speed and scale into an IoT system. Data from existing sensors, controls, systems and machines across entire estates can be monitored, managed and optimised to drive vast efficiencies across energy, maintenance, waste and productivity, all with much lower capital start-up costs required.
“Ultimately, retailers are feeling the pressure from the government and consumers alike to move quickly with their sustainability strategies, and they must be smart in their approach and utilise technologies to transform current practices.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously forced retailers to change the way they operate. Do you identify any potential for the restrictions and adaptations made over the past year or so to encourage such players to deal with issues surrounding sustainability and across the supply chain?
JM: “Navigating the pandemic has understandably been the priority for food retailers over the past 15 months. From checkout dividers and one-way systems to dealing with shifts in demand, footfall, stock levels and staffing, retailers have had to adapt in the face of Covid-19. However, provided that no further unexpected changes come into play and as the world continues on the path back to normality, food retailers must begin pivoting their focus toward the future and accelerating their current sustainability practices. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen first-hand the agility and adaptability of UK retailers. Now it’s time to ask: why not shift this flexibility, urgency and innovation to focus on achieving sustainability goals?
“For many of the changes throughout the pandemic, retailers relied on technology – from traffic light systems controlling customer levels, to the ‘behind the scenes’ technologies tuning ventilation systems to improve air cycling and displace contaminated air from stores. This same digital technology will be the key to tackling sustainability in retail environments. From advanced connectivity enabling remote management of machines to reduce the requirement of on-site engineer visits, unprecedented levels of visibility and contextualisation to prevent machine failure and minimise food waste, to digital strategies that enable real-time automation and achieve significant reductions in energy – technology will continue to support and enhance the retail sectors ability to meet sustainability targets.”
Could you describe your background, expertise, and journey to heading up IMS Evolve’s IoT Retail segment today?
JM: “Prior to joining IMS Evolve, I worked as Head of Change for the Maintenance division at Tesco, where, I helped develop and implement digital solutions at the supermarket, before joining IMS Evolve in 2017 as the company's Director of Operations.
“I was responsible for the establishment and growth of the IMS Evolve business in the United States, leading the engagement and roll-out of the IMS Evolve applications to 5,300 stores in the US.
“Now, as Managing Director, I share expertise gained over a career in retails operations, maintenance and food safety where I successfully deliver global IoT solutions at scale to help food retailers reduce waste, maintenance costs and energy consumption across all our global customers.”
How is IMS Evolve’s technology enabling sustainability in some of the UK’s leading supermarkets today?
JM: “IMS Evolve has been working with retailers to improve sustainability for over 20 years, and our best-in-class IoT technology addresses key sustainability challenges across the store environment.
“A focal point of the technology is to minimise stock loss for our retailers. Through real-time monitoring and management of entire refrigeration estates, IMS Evolve’s software can predict machine failures, enact automatic preventative change and drive proactive action before there is an impact on food. Not only does this significantly reduce food waste; it also ensures that refrigeration devices are continually operating at optimum efficiency, further safeguarding the quality and safety of produce. Our customers have seen a reduction in stock loss by up to 49 per cent after implementing the IMS solution.
“Additionally, our software can be integrated to the highest energy consuming assets in a retail environment, including refrigeration assets (which account for 50 per cent of energy consumption) and HVAC devices (which account for 30 per cent). Through the enhanced visibility and control that our technology provides, as well as targeted automation strategies and improved maintenance regimes, the performance and efficiency of assets can be optimised. This both sustains machine longevity and drives down energy consumption often caused by over- and under-performing, faulty assets, or inefficient settings and controls. One IMS customer achieved a US$7-million energy saving across a single refrigeration initiative.
“Imperatively, the IMS Evolve technology enabling this increased sustainability is achieved through a software-only, controls-agnostic approach. This means our software can be integrated at speed and scale to existing infrastructure without the need for huge upfront capital on new equipment, enabling an accessible route to a more sustainable store environment.”
In which areas of the retail landscape does IMS Evolve identify the strongest opportunities for IoT to boost efficiencies and further enhance sustainability efforts?
“Effective traceability and transparency across the supply chain is an area of considerable industry and consumer interest. IMS Evolve is a proud member of The Digital Sandwich project – a government-backed initiative developed and being delivered by a cross-industry consortium that includes food manufacturers, digital technology, financial institutions, and equipment providers. This project is geared towards connecting primary production and supply chains to retail to increase productivity and flexibility within the supply chain for suppliers and producers, whilst increasing food safety and reducing waste.
“Other areas of innovation that I believe provide incredible sustainability and efficiency opportunities within the retail industry include effective Demand Side Response (DSR) strategies, advances in remote maintenance and automation, and the integration of distributed energy resources such as solar, wind and batteries.”
Looking ahead, what challenges do you identify for retailers as they journey towards a more sustainable future?
JM: “Post pandemic, retailers face challenges from a capital point of view, and many are understandably cautious in committing to large, costly new projects. This means, if we are to reach sustainability targets, retailers need to look to energy reduction projects that do not require huge investment, delivering a much quicker and more efficient return on investment.
“Powering stores with wind farms or solar panels is undoubtably a step in the right direction, but food retailers need to start by looking to IoT technology to optimise existing assets. Such solutions will provide the route to achieving the kind of reductions in energy consumption and food waste the food retail sector needs without the huge capital cost requirements.
“Retailers might be surprised by just how much more sustainably they can run their existing stores with the infrastructure already in place.”
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